Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Tenebrae (1982)

To Italian audiences, "giallo" is the term for any thriller or suspense film.  In English-speaking markets however, the term more narrowly applies to a breed of Italian thrillers, principally from the 1970s and 80s, which feature gruesome murders, stylish camerawork, and often discordant music.

Looming large within this body of work is the name of Dario Argento, whose career as a writer and director encompasses over 40 stylish - albeit not always terrible coherent - films over the last fifty years.  Critical reception to his movies has declined sharply since the mid-90s, but there's no doubt that the peak of both giallo films in general and Argento's career in particular runs from the mid-70s to the mid-80s.

I first became aware of Tenebrae because it was included in the Drive-In Classics box set I own.  However, after enjoying the first ten minutes and doing some googling, I decided not to continue watching it at that time because the version in that set was the heavily-edited US release and I wanted the full "Argento Experience".  The difference in run time between the two versions, in case you were wondering, is over 15 minutes.

The film's premise is simple enough, and honestly a bit like that of Castle (though nothing else about it is): a successful mystery writer is informed by police that a young woman has been murdered, and pages from his latest book stuffed into her mouth.  He's only eliminated as a suspect because he was in a plane when it occurred.

When the murders continue, they seem to become more personal to the author himself.  And he is also catching glimpses of his former fiancee, who should be half a world away.  Are the two series of events related, or merely a coincidence?

This being an Argento film, the answers are rarely simple ones.  They do, however, hang together fairly well when they're finally revealed.  This is one of those movies where things that seem a bit "off" when they happen actually make more sense once the truth comes out.  It's a nice change from films which throw in a twist for the sake of "surprising the audience" and then retroactively make no sense.  I can see why this is regarded as one of the strongest Argento movies from a narrative perspective.

This is a film packed with gruesome murders (none of which, ironically, are anywhere near as scary as a scene where a young woman is chased by a vicious doberman), and also with a fair bit of pretty gratuitous nudity, so it certainly won't be to all tastes.  But if you don't mind (quite) a bit of sleaze in your suspense, it's a solid option.

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